PROJECT 1: "Portuguese Deputies in Comparative Perspective: Elections, Leadership and Political Representation"

Project Summary

Parliaments are a fundamental link between citizens and governments. First, it is through parliamentary elections that people elect (most of) their representatives. Second, in parliamentary and semi-presidential regimes it is through these elections that governments are formed. Third, parliaments are the institutional key-stone of both law-making processes and government control. Finally, parliaments constitute a privileged channel that allows citizens and interest groups alike to influence the decision-making process. Members of parliament (MPs), usually grouped in political parties, are the concrete agents of political representation. Although parties, as collective actors, are arguably more relevant than individual representatives in most modern societies, it is through the MPs that the representative function is materially performed. The quality of representation, as well as the efficacy of the law-making and power-checking processes, depends on the way MPs relate to their constituencies, their personal characteristics, their policy orientations and their parliamentary performance. There are several indicators that suggest that political representation is having difficult times in Portugal: rising electoral abstention, emerging forms of political participation that are not channeled by the existent parties, and growing criticism of the ruling class. On the other hand, the ongoing process of globalization and the continuing transference of competencies to supranational entities such as the European Union have eroded the parliamentary capacities to shape public policy. This project is set to study the following questions:

1) What are the factors behind the growing dissatisfaction of the citizenry with the ruling class?

2) Is this dissatisfaction also addressed towards the institutions of representation?

3) How does the phenomenon of political representation function at the parliamentary level?

4) Does it make sense to speak of a ‘crisis of representation’?

In order to answer these questions, the project will develop six strategies. First, it will update the existing databases containing biographical data of the Portuguese MPs.

Second, it will enlarge and deepen the existing knowledge regarding the role of the parties in the process of parliamentary recruitment through interviews with party leaders and MPs, as well as content analysis of party documents and press releases.

Third, it will compare policy orientations of candidates (and MPs) vis-à-vis their voters (relying on surveys targeted at each of these groups). Remarkably, such a comparative analysis between elite and non-elite attitudes has never been done in Portugal, and it will allow the study of its political representation.

Fourth, it will study the participation of civil society in the law-making process through an in-depth analysis of citizens’ and organized interests’ hearings in parliament.

Fifth, based on a mass survey and on focus groups, it will study citizens’ attitudes towards the political elites and the institutions.

Sixth, a crucial innovation of this project is its embeddedness in two international networks of research: the Candidate Survey and the PARENEL project. Such a framework will allow us to place our study in a broader comparative context and to relate the Parliament’s institutional characteristics to the whole process of political representation.

Objectives

This project has seven goals:

First, to provide an updated picture of Portuguese MPs characteristics, 1975-2005.

Second, to enhance the existing knowledge regarding the parties’ roles in the parliamentary recruitment process.

Third, to carry out a comparative analysis of citizens’ and elites’ policy orientations as a major element in the study of political representation. It will also study political representation through an in-depth analysis of the civil society role in the legislative process.

Fourth, it will scrutinize the behavior of candidates and MPs both during the electoral campaign and once in parliament.

Fifth, its placement within two broader international research networks will allow us to study the Portuguese case comparatively and relate the Parliament’s institutional characteristics to the whole process of political representation.

Sixth, it will improve our comprehension of citizen attitudes vis-à-vis representatives and political institutions.
Seven, it will make available to the society at large all the raw-data and results produced.

This project is framed within the two main lines of research previously developed by the leading researcher. On the one hand, it deals with processes of parliamentary recruitment and with the characteristics of the Portuguese political elites; on the other hand, it deals with voters’ values, attitudes and behavior. Hence, this project will allow in the first place to update and further develop works concerning parliamentary elites. Secondly, it will contribute to a better understanding of the linkage between voters’ attitudes and elites’ orientations.